A blog about my photos, my artwork, quotations, ideas, collections, passions, England, authors, handwork of all kinds, rusty bits, buffalo, and architectural detail...for starters. And the occasional rant.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Radio On Line

It will come as no surprise to anybody that I listen to BBC Radio.  It started as my news source, which is a subject for another post, but became an addiction when I found myself home most of the day and began searching the BBC Radio website for other things to listen to.  Now, I pretty much have it on anytime I am in my studio, which between computer time and studio time is a large part of my day.

I barely remember the age of radio, I was in first or second grade when we got our first TV, but I have a lovely memory of being at my grandparents house and watching my grandfather lay on the floor with his head on a small pillow tucked into the bottom cavity of his big radio/phonograph console (where most people kept their records) listening to baseball games.  Grandma didn’t like them I guess, so this was his small but functional version of a man cave.

One of the comments often made about books or radio as opposed to TV or movies is that they  allow, even force, one to imagine what the people look like, where they are, and all the little details.  Often we come up with something much more colorful and exciting than a film director imagines.  Exactly like reading, radio stretches your imagination.  I am sure Grandpa saw each pitch, strike and home run as clearly as we might on TV, perhaps better.

Amazingly, in England, big names do radio – familiar voices pop up when you least expect it.   On any given day there are half a dozen different novels in progress, everything from Classics by Trollope and Hardy, genre novels by Dorothy Sayers, John LeCarre and Terry Pratchett, to new fiction.  You can go from an episode of 'Doctor Who' to a reading of Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem Prelude. 

Even more amazingly, they have panel and quiz shows that play to the highest common denominator rather than the lowest.  Okay, puns are considered the lowest form of humour, and British humour absolutely thrives on bad puns, but they are seldom looking for the joke in farts or projectile vomiting.

BBC Radio Four does adaptions of classic and current works of fiction and you can subscribe to a newsletter which tells you what is playing this week, what is coming up, and what is in production.  Don’t worry about the time difference, most all of the shows are available on the BBC iPlayer for up to a week after they air.

Radio Four Extra has a corner on comedy.  Classics like ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘Dad’s Army’ familiar to those of us who watch public television as well as some oldies but goodies that never made it across the water and recent classics like ‘Little Britain’.

I could go on forever, but I have an episode of ‘Babysitting George’ to listen to.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chickadee Photos

A week later and the chickadees are still visiting the skull several times a day.  (See my May 3 post) I have now washed all my throw rugs and bedding to produce a continuing supply of dryer lint.  I have also managed to catch a few decent photos of them.
This is the smaller of the two, which I take to be the female.  They sit on the forehead of the skull and look around, cheeping nervously for quite some time before they finally go into the skull.

And so, finally deciding it was safe, they enter the skull.  You can tell this is the larger of the two in this photo.

Most of the time, after a few seconds, they stick their head out again to be sure everything is ok.

Then they go back in, grab a mouthful of lint and take off.
Obviously it is not just nest building materials they find inside the skull, sometimes I can hear them pecking so I assume there are some small insects in there also.  Yesterday, while one was perched on the forehead and the other perched on the railing, and I perched at my computer, I played some chickadee song from a birding sight.  They were quite interested and it seemed they did try to respond.  But I suspect I am just imagining that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Old Age or Lack of Caffeine

I might as well be honest right from the beginning, I don’t drink caffeine so that pretty much narrows it down, doesn’t it.

Drive-through coffee is just an accepted fact of life in Seattle and most of us have at least one within a mile of our home or workplace.  I have three: A Starbucks, MacDonald’s, and one where the barista works in her underwear.  We are spoiled for choice and quality around here so most of us have fine-tuned our coffee to suit our needs and desires perfectly.  We can be almost ridiculously picky about our drinks and so, we usually are.  The customers who request a ‘tall brewed’ are few and far between.

Up until about 6 months ago I was drinking a ‘decaf grande two Splenda breve latte’.  Then I changed my regular drink and I swear, it took me at least two months to run through ‘iced decaf triple grande two Splenda latte’ without breaking into a “breve” somewhere.  But eventually your mind blocks out the rhythm of the old drink and the new one flows from your mouth to the mic at the drive-through with practically no thought. 

Now here is where it gets difficult. In my ongoing efforts to reduce carbs anywhere I can, I have decided to cut back on my lattes and replace them some of the time with ‘iced passion tea lemonade no syrup two Splenda’.  So now my poor ancient brain has to toggle between the two drinks.  It is embarrassingly difficult. 

I know I sound like the rich man complaining about how hard it is to handle all his money.  But I also know this would not be such a problem if I were thirty.  Thank God I am such a regular that the lovely young people at my local Starbucks know me and help me out when I get in the middle of a hopelessly botched order.  I am sure they do it for all the ‘old folks’, it’s probably part of Starbucks training.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Salisbury, Wiltshire

The notes on my Flickr collection entitled 'England' say "I just save my money until I can go to England again...and then I take a couple thousand photos...and then I play with them until I can go back to England and take some more".

I have been playing with my photos of Salisbury - one of my favorite citys.  These are from my 2009 visit.

All of these spots are in the heart of Salisbury.
As you can see, it was spring.

A really lovely cathedral, where the few modern changes have been chosen with great care.

The specifics on any of these photos are on the Flickr site - link to left and also to right.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And Then Nature Thrills

For the last forty-five years I have been blessed to live in houses that have a lot of birdlife in the yards.  As soon as possible in the spring, my bedroom window stays open round the clock and the dawn chorus has been a regular start to my day.  Where I am now, there are very few resident birds and no dawn chorus at all.  There are crows, chickadees, the occasional band of bushtits, herons flying overhead, and of course, starlings.

Quite a few years ago my daughter bought me a cow skull ( or maybe a bull skull?) that had been a wall decoration at a restaurant that was closing.  It was pretty worn down, had only one horn, and hung from a leather thong.  I assume it was a Mexican restaurant, it had that bleached-in-the-sun look that looks good next to the serape.  This spring when I cleaned out the pots on my little deck and planted the early pansies, I took the skull from under an old worn table (they actually looked quite good together) and hung it low on the wall by the railing.

Day before yesterday, as I walked by the sliding doors I saw a flicker of feather out of the corner of my eye and there was a chickadee perched on the hole that goes into the skull at the top.  Nothing was showing but his little tail for a minute and then he flitted away.  It was awfully cute.

Yesterday, as I sat at my computer, I looked out the door and there was the chickadee again.  Now he was going all the way into the skull and coming out with a beakful of brown material.  Upon investigation, I found there was some sort of spongy stuff filling much of the cavity in the skull.  Aha, I thought, perfect nesting material.  And soon enough there was a second chickadee, somewhat smaller than the first and quite a bit more cautious but also availing herself of this windfall.  For most of the day, every time I looked, one or the other of them was coming or going.

There is a pine tree at the side of my deck and there always seems to be chickadees in it, so I am hoping there is a nest being built there.  By the evening, when I checked the skull, they had removed most of the spongy stuff so I cleaned out my dryer lint trap and stuffed some of that into the skull.  Sure enough, this morning found both of them coming and going with great bits of purplish fuzz in their beaks.

Now I just have to figure out how to get a photo before the nest is completed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Nature Kills

I have the great good fortune to live close to a heronry (a colony of breeding herons).  They are beautiful and unusual birds.  Although I am fond of quite a list of birds – crows, magpies, English robins, puffins, swans, and bullfinches in particular – herons have such a wonderfully unusual shape, and when they fly past for just a moment you think you are seeing some prehistoric flying creature.

Not long after I moved to where I am now, I became unemployed, so I had the luxury of spending as much time watching the herons as I wished.  There is a Park and Ride adjacent to the protected area in which you can park and watch them.  You need bins to really see what is going on, but all through the spring of my first year here I would stop by for at least a few minutes almost every day and watch them building and repairing their nests, jockeying for position, and occasionally making love.  It was a delightful break in my comings and goings during a sun-filled spring season.

One of about five trees with nests in the heronry.  One of the trees has easily twice as many nests as this one does.

Last year, still unemployed, I began my regular visits as soon as they arrived at the nests.  I was lucky enough to see a great group of them arrive at the nests all together – an amazing sight of gangly legs and outspread wings settling down into the trees and nests.
Early one sunny Sunday morning I pulled into the near empty parking lot and realized immediately that something was very wrong.

We are blessed, near the shores of Lake Washington, to have a healthy and happy group of bald eagles.  Bald eagles like heron eggs.  I watched helplessly as two eagles savaged the nests.  One eagle moved from nest to nest and you didn’t need bins to imagine what was going on.  The other eagle circled above the trees.  Several large herons tried hopelessly to drive the eagle away, but even a full grown male heron is no match for a bald eagle.  Most awful however, were the cries of the herons.  They have a rather squawky sound normally with inserted clacking of beaks but now, at this moment, they were clearly cries of agony and despair.  Not to anthropomorphize the situation more than necessary, but I swear I could hear the parental anguish in their cries.  It was quite disturbing.

As sad as it was, I reminded myself that this was nature in action, this is what happens in the animal world.  As a friend of mind reminded me recently, “nature kills”.

I really couldn’t bear to watch or listen any longer so I headed around the corner towards home.  About five hundred yards from the heronry is a stand of trees normally unoccupied.  Now, they were loaded with herons, well over a hundred – all the herons that are normally unseen in their deep nests, and probably every last member of the group sat there, looking towards the nesting trees.  Waiting.  It may have been the saddest thing I ever saw in my life.

One of this years herons, looking for the perfect branch to add to the nest.

So spring has come again this year, without sunshine for the most part, and I have resumed my watch at the heronry.  But it is not the same for me as it was.  I don't stay as long, and I am always scanning the skies above the trees.  It is sort of like Christmas the first year after you discover there is no Santa Claus.  The tree and the presents are still there, but some of the joy has gone.